Words: Iain ClarkShort on stature but big on determination, ultrarunner William Sichel has conquered more than just endless miles to write himself into the record books.
William Sichel is a small man with huge determination. Standing 5ft 6in and weighing only 9st 6lbs, he may not be the most imposing physical presence, but he believes he is in the best shape for the exhausting demands of his sport - running for days on end.
Sichel entered the world of endurance running at the same time as thousands of other Brits, during the marathon boom which came over from the USA in the early 80s. A former semi-professional table tennis player, Sichel found he had the ability to be an endurance runner while at a table tennis training camp.Sichel with his prototype hand batons, which helped him secure second place in Athens in 2009
His first marathon was the 1981 Birmingham People’s Marathon. “With very little training, I turned up and ran 2hrs 43mins, just like that,” Sichel recalls.
In 1982, he made a “huge lifestyle change” by moving to Orkney in the north of Scotland, starting a family and setting up his business, which placed his running endeavours on the back burner.
However, 10 years later - “once life had calmed down,” he says - Sichel caught a glimpse of the London Marathon on television.
“I was inspired to start running again so I put on my trainers, opened the front door, ran round the block and I’ve been running ever since.”
He continues: “My sole motive to get back into running was to get fit for when I reached 40 and I was 39 and a half then, and I’m still going.”
When he got back into the sport, ultrarunning was alien to Sichel. However, after explaining to a friend that he still had energy and miles in his legs after running marathons, he was directed towards longer distance races.
In July 1994 the Scot ran his first ultra-endurance race, the 100K Scottish Championships. He crossed the line first in 8hrs 1min 10secs. “That was when I realised I was an ultrarunner. I was in agony and I was flabbergasted,” he says. For a man who found out he had a talent for a sport by winning the national championships, the sky was the limit.
Throughout the following years, juggling training and competition with his day job of dyeing wool from Angora rabbits and sheep, Sichel travelled all around the world, competing for Scotland and Great Britain in World and European Championships.
Life was good. Successful training and competition meant Sichel was in the best physical condition. In June 1997, upon returning from the European Team Championships with his first European medal in 100km running, Sichel was hit with the terrifying news that he had testicular cancer.
“The first thing I thought was that I was at the peak of my fitness, but as we now know, anyone can be affected,” he says. “It all happened so fast.”
Following the diagnosis, Sichel’s positive attitude saw him continue his normal training up until the day of his surgery, 10 days later.
“My mindset was that I would be the fittest man possible on the operating table,” he says.
Following the successful surgery, Sichel was determined to get back to the condition he was in before diagnosis. Three days after surgery he was outdoors walking, literally bent double due to the tightness of his stitches, “I was just so determined to get back on track as soon as possible,” he recalls.
Two weeks later, Sichel returned to continuous running and back to his training regime and in the September, two months after surgery, he was back in a GB vest competing in the 100K World Championships.
“I did it in seven and a half hours as well!” he laughs. “It really was extraordinary.”
So, how does a man train for such ultra-endurance events? Sichel swears by training with a weighted vest.
“I do uphill, downhill and long runs with it on and it’s really become the cornerstone of the training I’m doing,” he says.Putting on the pounds, Sichel swears by his weighted vest to up endurance and add miles
Aside from routine check-ups, Sichel’s health has returned to what it was before his diagnosis and his sporting endeavours have continued to make and break records. In a bid to continuously set new goals, Sichel recently challenged himself to set 60 ultra-distance records before his 60th birthday.
“As your goals and motives change over the years I just noticed I was becoming very highly motivated by records and personal bests and performance,” says Sichel.
To date, at the age of 57, he has set 45 records. “As I’m getting older it’s obviously getting harder to break them, I’m at the point where I’m even having to break some of my own records!”
Does the ultra-marathon man ever have any days where he just wants to sit back and languish in bed?
“The day after 1,000 miles,” he laughs. “I’ve always been very highly motivated, ever since I was a teenager, and I think part of that is down to goal-setting and knowing exactly where I am and what I’m aiming for and why I’m doing the training. Honestly speaking, I’ve never had any lapses in motivation.”
Not thinking much at all, just looking around you, seeing what people are doing, evoking a free state of mind. I call that smelling the flowers.
Are your shoulders relaxed? What are your arms doing? Are your hips both relaxed and loose? It’s thinking about running in a perfect form.
Just how fast am I going? What are the crew doing now? When do I need to eat or drink next?
When the chips are really down and I need that extra five per cent, I use a system of emotional power, using music or photographs, which remind me of emotional times.
2/3 pairs of shoes.
Digital watch with a 20-minute bleep timer.
Quick porridge oats, freeze dried meals - fast and simple foods you can easily use during breaks in a race.
Coconut Oil: Besides liking it, I find it’s a great way of boosting my calorie intake. I put it into porridge; it’s the kind of thing you can add to almost anything.